Hickey accepts Cullen’s challenge

May 28, 2008

Bernard Hickey blogged this morning in Show Me the Money that every day from now until the election he’s going to accept Michael Cullen’s challenge to identify some pointless or wasteful Government spending that could be cut.

 

This includes spending by state-owned enterprises and jobs being offered by all manner of agencies and quangos. This is going to be fun because there is a lot of low-hanging fruit.

The good doctor believes the government runs a tight ship and critics won’t be able to find much in the way of cost savings from government spending to fund tax cuts or to help reduce the inflationary pressures that are keeping interest rates high. He has challenged National and any other proponent of income tax cuts (although I am not one right now) to explain how they will be able to afford tax cuts without massive cuts in government spending and services.

My sense is that nine years of strong government spending growth have created an atmosphere where bureaucrats employ extra people, pay for more consultants and launch more projects without asking the basic question: Do we really need to do this and will we create more value for the economy by doing this than by allowing the private sector to use these resources?

 His first example was Transpower’s new website winterpower watch which was difficult to find and didn’t tell him what he needed to know.

 

He asked for other suggestions and this afternoon added Housing New Zealand staff’s weekend conference at the luxury Tongariro Lodge which has been widely reported in the MSM and on blogs including kiwiblog  and No Minister.

In the same post Bernard wonders why the Government is looking for a fulltime web communications advisor.

 I don’t get it. I can understand IRD and ACC and a few other government departments that deal with the public need fulltime webmasters to run sites that provide services to the public. That could actually be quite useful and efficient.

But the MSD is an policy advice body. It deals with ministers and other bureaucrats. Surely it’s not that hard. You put all the advice and research up on the site using the basic publishing systems already there. It’s either publicly available on the Internet or it’s available only to other bureaucrats via an Intranet. Do we really need someone doing this fulltime?

Here’s the most interesting gem from the job description. It explains why the MSD wants a fulltime web manager.

The Knowledge Sharing and Communications unit is based within the CSRE group in National Office and has a team of nineteen staff. It includes a Library team to provide effective and proactive library and information services to all Ministry staff.

Just the communications unit within the MSD, let alone the MSD head office, has 19 staff!

Add these examples to the areas ripe for culling suggested by The Hive and me and the potential for tax cuts might increase from just enough for a block of cheese to an amount that could buy a whole cow.

 

 

 


Still no verdict in EFA logo deliberation

May 28, 2008

In March the ODT published a photo of Green MP Metiria Turei completing her third triathlon in a bathing suit emblazoned with Green Party logos. The accompanying story quoted her saying she chose not to swim in a wetsuit, preferring a swimsuit with logos because “it’s always good to get your message out there”.

 

I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that the suit ought to have had authorisation including the name and residential address of the Party financial agent and the cost would have to be counted in the election return.

 

She responded that logos didn’t count so I emailed the Electoral Commission recounting the exchange and asking for an opinion. The reply from Helena Catt said it wasn’t clear that a logo by itself met the definition of an election advertisement.

 

As the commission was then considering whether a Labour logo on a balloon met the definition I asked her to reconsider the issue. When I hadn’t had a reply by the end of April I resent the email. The response said when the commission considered the balloon they would consider all instances of logos which had been sent to them.

 

The Herald reports today the commission members are divided over whether logos are advertisements under the EFA.

“… we have not yet received Crown Law opinion on the relationship between logos and election advertisements,” Dr Catt said.

“We are aware that this is a pressing issue but it is not an easy issue so we have to work through differing views.”

I’d have thought if it was used to get “your message out there” it would be, in the words of the Act, “any form of words or graphics or both that can reasonably be regarded encouraging or persuading voters to do either or both of the following:  a) to vote for the party (whether or not the name of the party is stated) …  Why else would they do it? But it obviously isn’t that simple.

…Dr Catt said while it was desirable that the Chief Electoral Office, which regulates candidates’ election advertising, and the Electoral Commission, which regulates parties’ advertising, held the same view about logos, it was possible that they could differ.

As David Farrar  points out this is another victory for the law of common sense.

 

 The trouble is common sense won’t be a defence for anyone who breeches the EFA so until a decision is made candidates and parties must take a very precautionary appraoch to the use of a logo on anything.

 


EcoClimate report not all bad

May 28, 2008

Last week’s rain which varied from 12 – 30 mls in different parts of North Otago has lowered temperatures. So while noting the touch of frost on my morning walk I wondered if it would be all bad news if the globe is warming?

 

The EcoClimate report, Costs and Benefits of Climate Change and Adaption to climate change in New Zealand, which was released by MAF yesterday, says that farming may be better in some areas if the temperature rises a degree or two.

 

The full report is here and the authors stress it should be regarded as part of the risk assessment of what could happen to production not a firm prediction on what will happen.

 

The Herald says the impact of climate change wouldn’t be all bad, but the bad effects would be worse than in the past.

The expectation for North Otago is it will be warmer which could mean an earlier growing season. However, it might also be drier with a greater risk of droughts.

“For an average year in the future the predicted changes are small when averaged across the country,” said MAF’s director of national resources policy, Mike Jebsen.

“But different parts of the country are affected differently, with the west becoming wetter, the east drier and all of the country becoming warmer.”

The growing season will get longer, especially in Southland and the West Coast. But although production is expected to increase there, it will decrease in Northland and some east coast areas.

In an average year in the 2030s or 2080s the expected impact on national export revenue from dairying, compared with now, is expected to be minimal. For sheep and beef farming it would be between 4 and 9 per cent lower.

But in extreme years droughts are expected to be worse than those experienced in recent decades, like the 1977/78 and 1997/98 episodes, and national production from pastoral farming would be almost halved.

 Econometric modelling by the Treasury a few years ago found drought to be the second most potent influence on the New Zealand economic cycle, after export prices.

We know all about that in North Otago which has been dogged by recurring droughts. The impact on individuals is as harrowing as ever, though the impact on the district is getting less as irrigation increases.  

Droughts would become more frequent, said Niwa scientist David Wratt, and the work suggested the likelihood of the especially damaging case of a two-year drought might be higher.

“What is now a one-in-20-year drought might become a one-in-five-year one later in the century.”

The work takes no account of any increased risk of pests and diseases which might arise from higher average temperatures (about 2C over the rest of the century, twice the increase of the past 100 years), with fewer frosts and more hot days. Nor does it attempt to model how farmers would react to these climatic changes.

“It takes no account of adaptation, for example, water harvesting and storage or going to drought-resistant plants,” Jebsen said.

More precipitation on the Southern Alps might mean more water coming down the South Island rivers, increasing the potential for irrigation.

North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC) is already working on the second stage of its scheme which has consents to water 20,000 hectares. The scheme has 100% reliability of supply because it takes water from the Waitaki River which is snow fed.


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